Ecologists tracked whale and dolphin pods near Hawaii in a much more accurate manner by using drones this summer. If drones can help scientists monitor the whales, what else can they do?
The general public’s opinion of drones is that they’re either used as military weapons or they are expensive toys for tech enthusiast to crash-land on the White House lawn. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration might change the way these devices are perceived by the public.
NOAA’s recent use of drones for whale-watching expeditions is an opportunity of growing the list of nonmilitary functions of these next-gen devices. Drones have also started playing important roles in real estate, police work, rescue missions, and firefighting.
What it means to use drones in wildlife research
Even though drone use in wildlife research and ecology, in general, is in its early stages, researchers are positive that using this technology can help them improve their observational reach.
Iain Kerr, the chief executive officer of the whale and ocean research organization Ocean Alliance, said: “I believe that drones for conservation and research are akin to the invention of the microscope for cellular biology.
Dr. Kerr’s of a DJI Phantom drone is not restricted to collecting photos; the drone also provides respiratory and DNA information from blue whales swimming in the Sea of Cortez.
Drone use in animal research can help ecologists truly understand the effects humanity has on wildlife because it studies them in a non-invasive manner. Camera drones have assisted Hawaii researchers in capturing better wildlife images than photographers on boats.
The drones they used did not disturb the whales. The most important requirement for drones used in wildlife observation is to be engineered in such a way that the animals are not even aware they’re being supervised.
Unlike hobby drones, the hexacopter drone used for the Hawaii research can carry larger and higher-quality cameras. They also weather rough winds and seas better due to the higher power level.
The work of the NOAA oceanographers was made significantly easier – they didn’t have to use smaller boats anymore to photograph the whales, which can prove dangerous in bad weather. At the same time, the drone offered a new perspective that gave a more accurate head count of the whales in the region.